Slow start and injury hamper Weston in Class M quarters
Following her team's 3-0 (25-10, 26-24, 25-22) Class M quarterfinal loss to Sacred Heart Academy on Friday at North Haven High, Weston volleyball coach Jamie Charles gave a fitting quote on a Friday the 13th.
"I think they were rattled," Charles said of her No. 7-seeded Lady Trojans, who finished their season at 17-4. "We've been battling with some mental lapses. Sacred Heart came out ready to battle... and I don't think we were totally mentally focused and points just add up really quickly."
Before Weston could compose itself, the team was down 12-4 in the first game. Although the squad was able to rally from a 24-18 deficit in the second game to tie the score at 24 points each, the damage had already been done--mostly by Sacred Heart senior standout outside hitter Brianna King, who finished with a match-high 23 kills on the night for the No. 2 seed Pacers (19-2).
"In the middle of the game, I don't even remember what happened. I just remember being like, `Oh, my gosh,'" said Weston senior captain outside hitter Anja Nickel, recalling the moment she realized her team was down by 10 points in the first game.
"It was definitely jitters but that comes naturally with coming this far. Weston isn't really known for going very far in state, so that was definitely part of it," added Nickel, who finished with a team-high 14 digs and 11 kills.
To make matters worse, the Lady Trojans lost another starter to an ankle injury late in the first game when freshman middle hitter Hannah Ashmore fell awkwardly on her right ankle in front of the net after going up against a wall of Sacred Heart defenders. Ashmore's injury came two games after the Lady Trojans lost sophomore outside hitter Lili Clement in their first round victory over Waterford on Nov. 9.
"We've really played seven main players all season, so all these people I'm throwing in from the bench have not had much game time,"
Charles said. "But these girls battled through that and I'm so proud of them for how close they made those games."
"When they've got two starters down that really puts them in a tough spot, so I give my girls credit for staying focused and I also give [Weston] a lot of credit because when you're down two starters to battle the way they did, it really says a lot about the character of their team as well," noted Sacred Heart coach David Alexandro, whose team reached the state semifinal round for the third straight time.
The battle was lead by Weston's three senior captains: Nickel, who at one point in the third game recorded three consecutive kills; setter Brittany Swanson, who had a team-high 17 assists to go with four digs, four service points, two blocks and two kills and Julia Robinson, who finished with five digs, four kills, three service points, a block and her team's only ace.
In addition the Lady Trojans were aided by the play of junior right side player Christina Welsh and her 10 digs, nine service points and four kills. Junior defensive specialists Haylee Winikoff (eight digs) and Sammy Fino (seven digs) came up big for the team as well in the backcourt. Classmate Maggie Montelli contributed four service points and five digs.
Before walking back to the locker room, team members found themselves washed away in the emotion of the moment as evidenced by tear-stained cheeks--especially the team's five seniors, a group that also includes Laura Flanagan and Khadija Lalani. After awhile, though, the team's spirits were lifted when its members realized what they were able to accomplish.
"Every other time we've walked off the court after a loss and they've been really upset with themselves," Charles said. "I think tonight they're going to be pretty proud. They should be pretty proud of themselves especially after all the setbacks we've just had."
Besides being able to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history since 2004, Nickel and Swanson talked about the other aspects of the season that would not show up on a statistics chart such as an overwhelming sense of team chemistry and a loyal home fan base.
"We were just good," Swanson said. "We had fans. We really brought volleyball back to our high school. You could feel it in our gym. I've never experienced anything like that before."
Spiker notes: Nickel was a First Team All-SWC selection. Welsh and Swanson were All-Patriot Division and Ashmore and Robinson were All-SWC Honorable Mention.